This is a story about our past and progress. It’s about holding on and letting go, moving forward by moving inward, and time. And like any good story, it’s a love story in the end. I’m talking about the kind of love that eases suffering and restores peace. The love we show ourselves through patience and unconditional acceptance.

It begins with a box in the back of my hall closet, tucked neatly beneath the snorkeling equipment and board games we always forget about. I’ve moved that box from Texas to Tennessee and back again, to California and Arizona.

I last opened the box eleven or twelve years ago. I lived in Memphis then in a bright but lonely third-story apartment. There was a thunderstorm that day, and something about the dark afternoon and Clueless playing in the background made me nostalgic.

I spent hours poring over old family photos and so many trinkets I’d forgotten about. An old nametag from my college dorm, programs from past performances, marching band gloves, complete with cut-out fingers. All proof that I was here.

I’d unearthed a time capsule of cherished keepsakes mixed with hastily stored pictures of people I used to know. Good memories and bad ones greeted me, both softened and warmed with time.

I pulled out a caricature of me and my high school boyfriend and braced myself for a punch in the stomach I always felt seeing his face. I’d vowed to wipe him from my memory. “I’ll never be that person again,” I’d promised. And here was evidence that we happened. That, too, had softened.

It’s a bittersweet mix of pleasure and pain to revisit the past. Compartmentalization and sentimentality, like why would I want to remember this, but also why would I ever want to forget? Our lives are made of days we long to linger in along with those we’d like run from, burning the bridge and the whole city behind us if we must. Both tell the story of us.

I’m happy to remember what I want to remember. Graduations and award ceremonies, laughing on the swings outside my apartment, sleepovers with the friends I’d grow into an adult with. I want to acknowledge the things I’m proud of, that clearly speak of my strengths.

I’ve spent many wishes on extracting the other times from my story…the lows and illnesses, ridiculous relationships and naiveté. CTRL+X, like it never happened. Paste in something prettier.

Opening that box and feeling my heart open just a little wider made me wonder if my past deserves more respect than that. And so much more love. I was out there trying my best and living. Even when I didn’t know where to turn or understand what I was looking at, I managed to find my way through.

It’s interesting, too, that as much as I wanted to leave behind many aspects of my past, I’d found something worth holding on to in it. Did I know that one day I might see things differently? Maybe. Or maybe I was just as idealistic then as I am now, listening to love songs and hoping the box would keep the good times alive.

I’ve considered taking the box out and showing it to my kids, but something’s always stopped me. Part of me wants them to hold a little slice of their family legacy, and another wants to leave it alone. Best not disrupt the balance I’ve found. I’ve grown up and moved on, but the fear about what I might unleash opening up the past remains.

So, I suppose this is a story about trusting in our progress, too.

I’ve made more peace than I give myself credit for. The hang-ups I thought I’d never get over and the heartbreaks I thought would haunt me forever, shoved down dark and deep, don’t hurt me in the same way. I’m not afraid of the same things anymore. It’s true, I have new fears now. But now, I also trust that they’ll change. My whole relationship with fear is different. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m a lot less judgmental of my fears and their origins.

This is also the story about the wisdom and peace we seek. And it’s about life, legacy, and forward momentum.

We want to move forward and grow stronger, braver, and wiser. We’re all caught in that pull between holding on and letting go.

We can act like moving forward means bottling it all up or leaving it all behind, as if that will make us faster. Sure, we’ll outgrow things. Space will ask for clearing. We’ll bury hatchets, set dreams free, and so on. Parts of us will be reborn many times over. None of this moves us very far into that peace and wisdom we desire if done in anger, rejection, or shame, though.

Pain becomes wisdom and life becomes legacy through respect for the path that led us here and gratitude for our progress, in whatever form it takes. And transformation happens through our daily decisions. Making amends, apologizing, setting boundaries, or just taking better care of ourselves eases suffering and brings us closer to peace when made from a place of caring.

It’s not instantaneous, of course. And it’s okay to keep a “box.” We need a place to put those things that we don’t know what to do with or make sense of. But we also owe ourselves the honesty about what happens inside that box.

The box isn’t magic, and hiding things doesn’t make them disappear. Yet here’s the paradox of it all: time has healing properties. It eases the intensity of old wounds through perspective. Over time, we make sense of our past and reach a new understanding of how it all fits together. The path we’ve traveled often looks clearer through the rearview mirror.

We don’t move forward by packing everything away and never looking back. Part of the growing process is taking that box out and sorting through it. Letting some things go with compassion and holding some closer to our heart, then breathing a sigh of sweet release as the box grows lighter.

Above all else, then, this is a story about suffering and compassion. (In the end, it’s always a love story.)

Whether we’re holding on or letting go, love is the path through. Love may be tender, but it’s so strong. Love gives us resilience. Grit. With love comes acceptance and patience. Love breeds openness.

Love reminds us of why we’re trying in the first place.

It speaks to us of our courage.

Love makes us willing to look at the parts that hurt with kindness.

Sometimes we need to see the ugly parts to find the beauty again. Sometimes confusion is the first sign of clarity. It’s our willingness to be present with whatever arises that gives us the strength to keep going.

Dear Traveler, we all have a box of one kind or another. What’s the story that yours tells? What form has your progress taken?

It’s eleven years later, and I’m still learning how to be more intentional about the holding on and easier about the letting go. I’m learning that I don’t need to rush so much, and I sure don’t need to try so hard to escape where I’ve been.

I’m seeing for myself that it’s okay to let go of shame. It’s okay to hold on to the positives, too. (Even in the painful times.)

I’m learning how to nurture the small moments of joy and appreciate the everyday things that tell my story.

As for the pain, I’m learning to meet that with love. Fear, too. When I’m ready to face it, I face it with as open a heart as I can manage. If it burns, I ease up. When I’m not ready, I give myself permission to set it aside for a while, this time closer to the light. I promise it I’ll be back when I’m a little older and wiser.

Originally published on Tiny Buddha.

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